Someday this pandemic will be just a memory, but I hope there will be a lasting reminder of how important our teachers, coaches, and schools are in the lives of our children and of their parents. There have been many heroes during this difficult time with healthcare staff and all the frontline workers deserving of being “people of the year.” And these last nine months of remote and blended learning have shown clearly that our whole educational system is a true bedrock of our society.
The Department of Health (DOH) put out new guidelines November 15th on the subject of school openings. They suggest counties consider moving from home teaching and blended learning (some days in classrooms and some days home) to in-school education for students living in counties that have a new case count of less than two per 100,000 (for two weeks) and a positive test rate of less than one percent.
Under the leadership of Mayor Kawakami and Dr. Berreman, our current seven day average new case rate is less than one and our test positivity is 0.5 percent (see DOH reference). We are 60 percent better than we were several weeks ago (these numbers do change daily). This is in comparison to the Big Island and Maui where their new case averages are approximately at 12 new cases per day and Honolulu County which is at 105 new cases per day. Two of these counties have had steadily worsening percentages over the past two weeks. At this moment, the County of Kauai’s statistics are probably among the best in the country.
I know the Department of Education (DOE) is moving toward a limited blended learning program for the upper grades in the new year. The decision to go to full reopening of schools depends on other factors such as classroom size (allowing for distance between children), and teacher and administrative concerns, but I think Kaua‘i should lean towards as many days in the classrooms as possible. Let’s take advantage of our low numbers. The DOH guidelines are very specific. They help schools navigate the opening process and give advice on moving away from full opening again if the situation requires it.
The guidelines re-enforce the need for facemasks in school at virtually all times and trying to stay in one’s bubble. Although the DOH guidelines don’t address ventilation, the DOE guidelines are very specific that maximum ventilation with outside air is the best option as it decreases the possibility of viral spread.
My hope is that we can wear our masks well, open all the windows, open the schools, and take advantage of keeping the virus at bay as the vaccines roll in.
Just a final note on masks. Some countries have closed their borders almost entirely and virtually eliminated the virus. They have also been able to remove their masks. On Kaua‘i, we still have a large number of essential workers, returning residents, and other travelers coming in. Wearing masks is still our best protection. Wearing masks can protect our kupuna and keep our children in school. We should be very careful not to become casual about masks even with our good statistics. Southern California now has zero available ICU beds and they had hundreds available before the latest surge. This virus will come into a population through any opening it gets.
The surging of COVID and record snowstorms in much of the world reminds me every day how fortunate we are to live on our beautiful island. I hope the New Year ushers in a time of new beginnings and a return to good health for us all. I also hope COVID helps us remember forever how important our schools and teachers are in the lives and futures of our children.
This column represents a sharing of information. No content on this column should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinicians.
Lee A Evslin, M.D. is a Board Certified Pediatrician and Fellow of The American Academy of Pediatrics. He was a former healthcare administrator on Kaua’i and periodically writes a column for the Garden Island.